White out!

My room has been transformed overnight!
No, it hasn’t had a surprise makeover, it’s been changed by the quality of light coming in through the window. Heavy snow has fallen here in Wales and I woke to a thick white blanket covering everything in sight.

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Outside everything looks different, and the light coming in, gives the room a different feel.

It reminds me of a television programme of a few years back. Called ‘The Home Show’, the architect George Clarke transformed houses into homes fit for purpose. ‘What’s the big deal in that’, you may be wondering…
Well, for starters it required the owners to put their complete trust in GC as a skilled designer. Secondly, he began every project by spraying the interior white, to enable a fresh perspective. It really was a white out!

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I get the feeling that in a similar way, God is asking me if I’m up for change. As a believer, I’ve definitely applied for an inner makeover, but how ready am I to consistently put my life in God’s hands?
Making positive changes is an ongoing process. I’ve been a follower of God for nearly 50 years, but truth is, there’s plenty of potential for further development!
We are called to trust God as our creator, designer, and project manager. God has a plan for each of us, but we need to follow it through by aligning ourselves.

As well as being called to trust in God, I’m also being called to let God do a ‘white out’!
GC white-washed the interior of every house so that all the irritating features were obliterated. The old had gone, the new had come. Only then, was new colour given to each room.
In the same way, the fresh start that God offers us is liberating. No longer do we need to be darkened by our shortcomings. If we are willing to put them behind us, we will be enabled to move on. God offers to white out our darkness, so that a fresh perspective leads to change, just like the interior of those houses undergoing a makeover.

The saying goes ‘Home is where the heart is’. We will feel increasingly at home in our hearts, when we take up the master plan – just like ‘my’ blackbird knows the best place to be!

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Truth is… ‘Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snowPsalm 51:7

It’s a personal matter!

‘Tis the season for personalisation. My inbox and letterbox are full of offers to print the name of my partner / children / cat / dog on a potential Christmas gift, or even on something for self. Take this morning – I opened my emails to be faced with this question: Do you want your own personalised mug, for free – YES or NO?

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Truth is, for a split second, it seemed an attractive idea. My tea mug is showing signs of age, but then priorities kicked in…
How do I like to start my day? – With a moment to align myself with God, not by getting diverted with the offer a free mug!
As I recognised this, I sensed an alternative offer from God:
Do you want your own time with me, for free – YES or NO?

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God calls each one of us by name. “Come to me” God says, “and I will give you rest.”
Not an empty aimless rest, but rest from all the unimportant, unnecessary things and thoughts in our lives.
Aligning ourselves with God, allowing God into our chaotic, messy minds and lives, gives us a fresh perspective. It prioritises what really matters, and what’s got our ‘name’ on it. For we are all called to be our true selves, making our unique mark on the people and places where we live out our lives.

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This call is tailor made, unlike the offers to personalise goods which aren’t actually very personal –  I don’t have a dog or cat, so offering me food dishes with their name, misses the mark. Not only that, I don’t think it would be possible for a dog or cat to read ‘Fido’ or ‘Fluffy’ on their personalised bowl!
In contrast, God gifts us and calls us to put our particular attributes and abilities to good use. We will never be called to do the impossible. The challenging – yes, sometimes – but to learn is to become more fully ourselves.

To be called by name catches our attention, just like the attention of a young child is caught when their name is written into a story. It’s personal…

Truth is… “I have called you by name” Isaiah 43:1

It’s all in a name!

I’ve just had a bad dream in which I was the mother of not 3 children, but 8…
‘What’s so bad about that?’ you may ask. Nothing – apart from the fact that I didn’t know the names of my 5 ‘new’ children, and no one would tell me!
In the clear light of day, the dream has been a source of humour – jokingly I asked offspring ‘X’ what the name of ‘Y’ is, and the answer came “Well I could tell you, but that would be telling! I can however, name some of their qualities. They’re kind, caring, loving, generous, gentle, good humoured, witty, intelligent, wise, keen to help others…”

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Parents-to-be talk at length about what their baby is to be called.
There are books of names outlining their meanings, so that one can be chosen to hopefully fit the new arrival.
Or maybe the chosen name is that of a much-loved relative, with the hope that the new family member might reflect similar personality traits.

Our name is so important. It gives us identity, and yet we are far more than a name.
Nature and nurture shape us into who we are, and I believe, the nudges of God too.
One of the ways I feel that God nudges me, is to be an encourager.
The other day I made a posy for someone, and their response was to exclaim my name – “That’s so J…, thank you!”

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Being true to our name is about being true to our call.
When God nudges, we are called from the crowd to do something that’s got our name on it. A meaningful and fulfilled life is about being ‘in the right place at the right time’ – not a place of our own making, but a place where we are aligned with God’s deepest hopes for us.

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With the ups and downs of life though, do we sometimes forget who we really are, and what we’re called to be?
Truth is, in times of waiting, I sometimes wonder if God has forgotten me. Do you too, wonder if God has forgotten you?
The good news is that this is not the case. We are known deeply to God – our very name is etched into God’s being. So no more bad dreams!

Truth is… “I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands” Isaiah 49:16

Crunch time!

This year autumn has been different. Here in Wales it’s been unusually dry and I’m told the fallen leaves have been very crunchy! I’m deaf, so I don’t pick up sounds like that, but I do know how crispy it’s felt under foot.

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Deciduous trees drop their leaves in response to falling light levels and colder temperatures.
If you like long words, it’s a process called abscission! This ‘natural detachment of parts of a plant, typically dead leaves and ripe fruit’ is necessary for fruitful subsequent seasons, and it’s got me thinking…

What needs detaching in my life, so that energy can then be channelled into producing new shoots and fruit?
Truth is, comparisons – I need to drop comparing myself to other people.
We are all unique, we all have different attributes and abilities, and to use the tree analogy, it’s pointless trying to produce pears, if you are in fact an apple tree!
Not only that, we all thrive when we grow in our own spot and don’t cast shadows on one another.

It’s been said:

“Be a 1st rate version of yourself,
not a 2nd rate version of anyone else”

When I came across those words of Judy Garland, it reminded me that comparisons are insidious.
They damage us by making us feel inferior or superior, and damage others by our resulting attitudes. Envy, or disdain, is life sapping.

So how do we move from the shadows cast by comparisons and other negative outlooks?
Maybe there is a further parallel to be found in the process by which trees drop their leaves:
At its base, each stalk has a row of weaker cells on top of stronger cells, and it’s the swelling of the latter that causes the leaf to fall. Likewise, if we let God’s strength swell in our lives, there will be displacement at our weak points and we will shed what we’re better without.
It’s a process, and change is gradual. But in God’s light, we will be a like a tree silhouetted against a bright sky, our true shape revealed.

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And rooted in truth and love, we will put out new shoots and bear fruit.
I think it’s crunch time for me, how about you?

Truth is… We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse… Each of us is an original’ Galatians 5:12

If the shoes fit

Recently someone was sharing with me, their uncertainty about what to do.

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It had taken this person some time to work out what was making them unsettled, and now they were looking at the different pieces that made up their life and working out what to do next. Was it time to make a sweeping change that would alter their situation in so many ways, or to change different aspects one at a time?
As I listened to their story, it sounded like a positive opportunity was being offered to them, but they were anxious that it might not turn out right.

There are of course, no hard and fast rules, and that’s why we can sometimes feel uncertain.
Life can be a bit like baking a cake. Sometimes the combination of ingredients calls for an ‘all in one method’ where you just tip everything in, give it a good mix, and bake. Other times, the content calls for light handling and a gentle folding in of ingredients, one by one, before cooking and turning out.

However, the person who was talking with me isn’t into baking, so a different analogy was needed. What came to mind was shoes!
It seemed like a box of ‘shoes’ was in front of them. These were exactly the right size, and in a style and colour they liked. So their choice was whether to take them out the box and put them on. Left in the box they wouldn’t be going anywhere, but put on, they could step out…
I was so glad when they later told me they were ‘wearing’ them!

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Throughout life we all need new ‘shoes’. Outgrown shoes can pinch and constrain; worn out shoes are past their best.
Truth is, I’ve sometimes been reluctant to go up a ‘size’, or replace ‘old for new’. But there’s a line in the film Forrest Gump that reminds me to check my ‘shoes’:

“Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.”

May we put our best foot forward by getting in the right mindset…

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Truth is… ‘In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths’ Proverbs 3:6

Half empty or half full?

In the last seven days life has been full of choices – to see my glass as half empty or half full.

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Truth is, a culmination of various events put me in a ‘what next’ frame of mind.
These included my daughter being pushed off the road by an oncoming driver which resulted in her car being a write off!
A blocked sewer!
An officious letter informing me I was in breach of the law regarding parking access!
A 25% burn to my hand!
And then the same daughter being attacked while driving my car, resulting in considerable damage to it!

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It seemed as though my glass was clearly half empty, but then I realised that this was only half the story.
What about the fact that the police were so professional?
That the water board came out at night and got things flowing again?
That an admin error was recognised regarding access rights, so I’m not unlawful?
That in the UK we have ready access to medical services?
That strangers stopped to help my daughter?
So many things that make, as the psalmist says, ‘my cup overflow’.

Once I started to tell myself the whole story and noticed the fine details, my perspective changed. There was more going on than initially appeared, and that’s what gives my life true shape.
I believe that nothing can separate us from the presence of God, and so, in the words of a song, there are ‘10,000 reasons for our hearts to sing’. It’s not about being superficial and pretending that all is sweetness and light, but about going deeper.
In the words of Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy.
For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me,
within me, there’s something stronger
– something better, pushing right back.”

All this has prompted me to fill in the gaps, and ‘colour in’ the black and white sketch of life that I was making. Standing back, I can now see a more complete, colourful picture. Just like the rainbow that brightened up the sky this week too…

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Truth is… O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!’ Psalm 103:2

Drop it!

I’ve said before that I’m not a winter person, but I’m having second thoughts…
To say that I dislike a quarter of the year is rather negative. Not only that, dreading winter makes me ambivalent about autumn, so I probably miss out on the full nature of another quarter!

So this year I’m choosing a different response. Instead of wishing that trees would stay green and summer continue, I’m noticing autumnal colours in a positive light. Rather than taking a ‘traffic light’ approach and willing the trees to stay green rather than turn to amber and red, I am actually welcoming the changing colours and enjoying the many shades of orange and crimson. Just like traffic lights cause me to stop, so autumn hues are giving me pause for thought.

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It’s good to be reminded that nature is all about cycles. Each season is necessary for the next.
It reminds me too, that there are cycles and seasons in our lives because, truth is, I’ve sometimes resisted ‘letting go’.

Trees don’t hold on to leaves that have served their purpose. They drop in response to changing conditions and are sometimes stripped by strong winds. But this isn’t the end of the story. In time new buds emerge and new leaves unfurl.
So what do I need to shed? What will inhibit growth if I don’t drop it?

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For me, it’s not possessions but outlooks that sometimes weigh me down. For various reasons I often need to think ahead and forward plan, but it can be my downfall if I’m later inflexible. It’s not a question of being right or wrong, it’s about being collaborative and companionable along the way. As the saying goes:

“If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together”

So I’m making a deliberate effort to be mindful of my attitudes, and drop anything that has a whiff of decay about it, like ‘I told you so’, impatience, or wishing it was a different ‘season’ in my life. For having a ‘grass is greener on the other side’ outlook can make me blind to what’s right under my nose!

Truth is… There’s a right time for everything… a right time to hold on and another to let go’ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6

Pay attention!

This week I nearly killed a Red Kite.

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(Overseas readers – this is a large bird of prey and a protected species.)
But before you report me for coming close to breaking the law, I should add that this definitely wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list on Tuesday!
I was in fact, driving along a main road when a Red Kite swooped down immediately ahead of me.

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With nothing behind, my instant reaction was to brake hard, and the slowing of the car gave the Kite a split-second opportunity to change direction and soar up and over.
Fast response prevented a collision, but there were other factors too that contributed to relief all round.
I was driving in a speed restricted area so I was travelling at 40 rather than 60 mph; my deafness makes me visually highly aware; I have quick reactions.

All this got me thinking – how do I ‘travel though life’?
At a ‘speed appropriate to current conditions’, with ‘due care and attention’, and responding in a ‘timely manner’?
Truth is, not always.
Sometimes my ‘to do’ list drives me forward without stopping to check out priorities. I’ve therefore had some timely reminders this week:

Just as a speed limit increases the chance of drivers responding in time to pedestrians (and Red Kites!) so too are there benefits from slowing down as we travel through life.
It gives us the chance to notice what’s going on around us, and become aware of who we need to ‘look out for’ – in all senses.

Just as an accident was averted because I was travelling with my eyes on the road, so too is it good to keep focused on what really matters in life.
It can be easy to lose sight of our core values and true goals. Fear, anxiety, impatience, doubt, and superficial desires can blinker our vision. But if we pause, and like a hovering bird get an overview, we can realign and respond to the currents around us.

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So this week, I’m very relieved not to be a killer!
May I remember to pay attention…

Truth is… ‘Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts’ Proverbs 3:24

 

 

 

Blossom where you’re planted

This week I had nothing to do for 10 minutes! (I was waiting in a car while my son-in-law called into his local library.)
As I sat there wondering what this week’s blog would be about, I noticed some trees lining the pavement. At this time of year the colour of autumn foliage can be breath-taking, but it was their shape that caught my attention.

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Where the trees were well spaced, each filled its place with beautiful symmetry.
In contrast, the trees that had grown in close proximity to each other had irregular branches, but viewed together as a whole there was an amazing pattern.

It got me thinking – what shapes life? Competition or cooperation?
In my school biology lessons I was taught Darwin’s theories about the ‘struggle for existence’ and ‘survival of the fittest’.
40 years later, I now found myself interested in what shapes growth – not from a scientific perspective, but from an everyday viewpoint.
What determines growth patterns, and what if we apply that question to ourselves?
– Circumstances yes, but also the level of awareness we have in our relationships with others.

Just as trees thrive best in the environment to which they are naturally suited, so too, do we. We all have different abilities (as a believer I would say God-given gifts) and we are most fulfilled when we are able to let these take root and bear fruit.
I enjoy using my practical and creative skills, and I want to be remembered as:

“a maker and a mender”

But as well as personal growth, we need to be mindful of how we fit into the bigger picture.
Just as trees grow alongside each other, and from a wider perspective can be seen to fit together, we too can flourish in relationship with one other.
Our attitudes though, aren’t always conducive to this. Truth is, I have a competitive streak, but ‘doing one’s best’ is quite different to ‘being the best’.

So this week I’m reminded to ‘blossom where I’m planted’

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– to recognise my gifts and use them for the good of others and enjoy fitting into the bigger picture – like those trees with their amazing pattern.

Truth is… ‘Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits’ 1 Corinthians 12:7

A little bit of encouragement…

I recently heard a heart-warming story about someone who’d found her voice, or more accurately, had re-discovered her voice. I don’t know all the details, but the point is that at a large family gathering her delight in singing was rekindled.

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My guess is that she hasn’t had many opportunities to sing in recent years, so her reflective comment “all you need is a little bit of encouragement” really caught my attention.
How right she is! We all need authentic encouragement to be our true selves.

I wonder how much goodness and giftedness lies within us, stunted or undiscovered –
maybe a dismissive classroom comment extinguished an emerging talent in us,
or maybe we haven’t always ‘fitted in’ and consequently stay on the margins,
or perhaps our reluctance to be open to constructive criticism has prevented us from moving forward.

Situations like these may have arisen through no fault of our own, while others may be of our own making. Whatever, we have a choice. To remain stuck in a rut, or to step out.

That’s where encouragement can pull us to our feet –
self-encouragement,
the encouragement of others,
and as a believer, I’m adding the encouragement of God to the list!
In stepping out, the encouraged can in turn become the encourager, and so goodness and giftedness is perpetuated.

The word ‘courage’ lies within ‘encouragement’. It can nudge us to have a go at something, and to keep going when the going gets tough.

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‘Truth is…’ is testament to this. It arose from what I sensed was a God-prod, and when I’ve wavered, the encouragement that’s come from ‘likes’ ‘shares’ and comments has been uplifting because truth is, I struggle with self-doubt.

I guess I’m not alone in this. But the way to stop being a shrinking violet is to stand tall –
to come out of the shadows into the light,
to take our place in the Sun,
and to find our hearts and hands and voices in whatever ways are fitting.
As Gok says:

“It’s all about the confidence”  

Truth is“Encourage one another and help one another” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

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